Anyone familiar with British holiday traditions will have popped a Christmas cracker or two in their time. Crackers are fun and all—there's the loud snap if you pull apart the paper quickly enough and with enough force, and there's sometimes a little paper crown inside. But for the most part, the British crackers that get exported to the States are fairly dull once opened. Not so with Quality Street—and I'm not talking about Nick Lowe's new Christmas album.
Quality Street is a tall box (or round tin) of assorted chocolates clad in gleaming royal purple that's usually broken out after Christmas dinner—regardless of whether or not you're too full for pudding. Christmas chocolates have long been a holiday tradition in the UK, where there are arguments aplenty about which confectioner makes the best tin of Christmas sweets. Quality Street usually comes out on top over competitors Cadbury and Mars, for both its value and its variety.
There's a chocolate for every preference inside a box of Quality Street—a dozen different varieties—stamped into the same shapes and wrapped in the same colored paper that's distinguished Quality Street sweets since 1936. That's when Harold Mackintosh, after inheriting his father's toffee factory, invented what would become a revolutionary box of candy. Before Quality Street, Christmas chocolates were an indulgence only the wealthy could afford. By using less expensive, locally-sourced ingredients instead of the imported French finery found in most boxes of chocolates, Mackintosh was able to create a box of Christmas chocolates anyone could buy. By the 1940s, Quality Street chocolates had become a beloved Christmas tradition throughout Britain.
Years' worth of commercials—the first aired in 1958—further cemented the Quality Street brand. The commercials (of which there are over 100) encouraged sharing of the Quality Street tins and boxes, an activity families eagerly embraced at Christmastime. Everyone had a favorite sweet, too: perhaps the octagon-shaped Orange Crunch in the bright orange wrapper, or the baton-shaped Chocolate Toffee Finger in the gold wrapper, or the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut with Caramel in the shiny purple wrapper that matched the Quality Street box. Hunting for your favorites (or hiding your brother's favorites) is as much fun as actually eating the chocolates.
If you want to start your own Quality Street tradition at home this year (or are simply a homesick Brit), head to The British Isles in Rice Village. There, you'll find a fully-stocked English grocer toward the back of the store; the front is all expensive teapots and novelty Union Jack merchandise. There are even fresh copies of Hello and The Mirror by the tills when you're ready to check out. A box of Quality Street is $16—still an affordable indulgence to this day.